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Take this job and ...

... shove it. Workers are getting more comfortable with saying sayonara

  • Jennifer Aniston in "Office Space"
Jennifer Aniston in "Office Space"
June 17, 2012|By Georgia Garvey, RedEye

Most of us have quit a job.

But how many have quit a job like Arika Kaosa did—while getting tattooed?

"Pretty much in the middle of the tattoo, I just called [my boss] up and said, 'You know what? I quit,'" remembers Kaosa, 25, of Lakeview. She was 18 years old at the time and desperately unhappy. She was underpaid and in a job where co-workers in a relationship regularly fought at work, and management didn't seem to be willing to correct the problems. "I couldn't take it anymore."

Low pay? Stressful environment? Bad management? Many are willing to live with those situations during a terrible economy. The Bureau of Labor Statistics, in fact, uses the data on the number of people quitting their jobs to assess the economy. If people are willing to quit, the thinking goes, they must be confident in their ability to get a new job.

And that's exactly what employers are seeing. Although a recent jobs report showed unemployment inching up—from 8.1 percent to 8.2 percent in May—at least one economic indicator shows things may be looking up.

During the recession, fewer people quit jobs, and turnover mainly was from layoffs and firings. A couple of years ago, that trend reversed, and now the number of people who quit their jobs is up, with 2.1 million people voluntarily shipping off in March, according to the latest data available. The country hasn't seen numbers like that since November 2008, according to U.S. Labor Department data. Even fictional characters are doing it. Hannah on "Girls," Peggy on "Mad Men." As it turns out, quitters sometimes do win.

Jaime Velasquez, interim director of career services at the University of Illinois-Chicago, said the trend is revealing itself in Chicago's job market as well. Velasquez organizes the major job fairs at UIC and said that the number of employers recruiting at the university is up 20 percent in the past year to year and a half. As those jobs open up, people are more comfortable leaving current positions, he said.

"We are seeing that [movement] right now," said Velasquez, who explained that many people during the recession, "for lack of a better word, just settled. They couldn't find the ideal position they were looking for."

As the job market turns around, confidence rises, and so does the number of people willing to change jobs to get that perfect gig. Kaosa said, for her, the confidence to quit came from being educated and certified in different fields of work.

"For people who don't have an education, it's definitely harder," she said. "Personally, I'm not too worried. If I had to quit a job right now, I probably still would."

Kaosa said that she does regret how she quit, however, giving no notice and having the conversation with her boss over the phone. Now that she's been a manager, she said, she would do things differently.

"I wouldn't do that again," she said. "I was 18. It's the maturity level that you gain."

Julie Diehl, 36, of Skokie, said she doesn't have any regrets about quitting a job in legal marketing roughly seven years ago, even though she had no permanent full-time job to replace the one she was leaving. Diehl said the situation—a bad boss who was driving many employees away—was too crappy to endure. Diehl didn't flip her boss the bird on the way out, but she did give an honest exit interview that laid out why she was leaving.

"I definitely didn't want to burn bridges, but at the same time, I wanted to voice my opinion to how dysfunctional [the job] had been," she said. "By putting it to words, I feel like I told it to the right person. It helped."

When it comes to the right way to quit, most experts say it's about being professional and keeping in mind what Diehl pointed out—that being rude to employers (even if they're ex-employers) is rarely a good idea.

Emily Zorza, a division director for staffing firm OfficeTeam, said things like giving proper notice, not verbally trashing your workplace on the way out and having a job waiting for you are standard ways to play it cool when you're leaving.

"You never know when you might work with someone again," said Zorza, who's based in Chicago. "People remember you for how you exited."

At the same time, Velasquez stresses that no one should feel guilty for taking a better position and responsibly leaving their job.

"You have to do what you have to do," he said. "Employers won't hesitate to let you go if they have to to protect their bottom line."

Stranger than fiction

There are good reasons for leaving a job, there are bad reasons and then there are just plain weird reasons. A survey of 1,300 senior managers in the U.S. and Canada developed by staffing firm OfficeTeam found bizarre excuses given by quitters.

"One person left because she lost her cell phone too many times at work."

"A guy said he was making too much money and didn't feel he was worth it."

"One person left because she didn't want to work so hard."

"An employee said work was getting in the way of having fun."

"A person quit because informal dress was not allowed."

"The worker told us he just couldn't get up in the morning."

"One employee didn't enjoy the cafeteria food."

ggarvey@tribune.com | @gcgarvey

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